washington post

Halloween church show: Washington Post peeks at the trend without passing 'judgment'

Halloween church show: Washington Post peeks at the trend without passing 'judgment'

I don’t usually jump into a story without an intro, but the Washington Post's lede on Judgement House is pretty vivid:

SOUDERTON, Pa. — She stepped into the pitch-dark room, illuminated only by eerie flames, as the sound of moans and shrieks rose over the ominous music. A hooded figure, dressed in black, leapt from the darkness to hiss in her ear.
Shadeilyz Castro burst into tears.
When the shaken 10-year-old left the room, clinging to her aunt, she was not talking about witches or goblins — she was talking about the Bible. "I have to read it more," Shadeilyz said. "With my brother. I have to talk to him. He doesn’t read it much."
Judgement House did its job.

The Post, in turn, does a more-than-decent job of telling the literally torturous story of Judgement House programs -- "all sorts of earthly tortures (kidnapping, child abuse, drug abuse, a hidden pregnancy)" -- through the lens of Immanuel Leidy’s Church, near Philadelphia. It's intense, maybe shocking -- and a bit flawed -- but not cynical.

The last is not unimportant: This topic is ripe for ridicule, if the reporter is so inclined. But WaPo tells the story, quotes the people on their feelings, and rejects the usual "trip to the zoo" contempt of many secular media:

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Mormon leader calls for balance, and Associated Press calls it 'transformation'

Mormon leader calls for balance, and Associated Press calls it 'transformation'

Mainstream media apparently are still hyperventilating over Pope Francis' "Who am I to judge?" remark, plugging it into other news stories. This week's version is a speech by Mormon Elder Dallin H. Oaks, who called yesterday for religious and secular people to respect each others' rights and beliefs.

"Compromise" and "balance" were the keywords in Oaks' speech at the Second Annual Sacramento Court/Clergy Conference in California. Oaks, a member of the first-echelon the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, urged his listeners to tune out extremist voices on either side.

He preached a view not of an opaque wall between church and state, but a "curtain" that allows "the passage of light and love and mutual support." But he also said that county clerks -- all but saying Kim Davis' name -- need to put aside their own beliefs and perform their sworn duties.

Nice olive branch, don't ya think? But the Associated Press version makes it sound like a p.r. strategy, inserting commentary into what was supposed to be a news report:

The speech marked another landmark moment in the conservative religion's transformation from a faith that frowned on gays and lesbians to one becoming more welcoming and compassionate, albeit in small steps that may seem nominal to outsiders.
As with the Roman Catholic Church under Pope Francis, the conservative Mormons are trying to assert a softer position in society, while holding firm inside the church to its own doctrines against gay marriage and homosexual activity.

This story is almost like a candy store for media critics like myself. First, we have the LDS Church called "conservative" -- the word is used three times in this story -- without explaining what that means. Social? Cultural? Political? Theological?

The article also calls the talk a big sign of "transformation," as if the church is about to change its basic beliefs. It's odd that AP invokes Francis, who is likewise prodding the Catholic Church toward a gentler attitude without anything like a transformation.  

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Nuns fight Katy Perry: The sensational news story that didn't happen

Nuns fight Katy Perry: The sensational news story that didn't happen

Katy Perry versus the nuns: It was all over mainstream media for days.

And who could blame them? What a great story hook! Laughable, readable, and best of all, clickable!

Um, yeah, we can still blame them, for reporting a story that ain't so.

We'll start with the real story -- which the media did report when they weren't getting all tabloid on us.

The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary lived for decades in a convent on eight acres in Hollywood's trendy Los Feliz neighborhood. The aging sisters have dwindled to five, and they agreed to sell the place to restaurateur Dana Hollister. However, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles signed with Perry, even though her price was $14.5 million, or $1 million less than the sisters got from Hollister.

Perry tried to win over the sisters with a personal visit. They say she dressed conservatively and sang O Happy Day.  Didn't win them over, said Sister Rita Callanan, who added, "Our days have not been happy since then."

Why don’t the sisters like Perry? "I found her videos and ... if it's all right to say, I wasn't happy with any of it," Sister Rita told the Los Angeles Times in a much-quoted comment.

A court date is set for July 9, and even the Vatican may be asked to decide who gets the convent.

Nuns defy archbishop -- now, that's an attention-getter in itself.  But throw a rock star into the story -- especially one who has turned out blockbusters like Roar and Firework -- and mainstream media can't resist making it about her.

* "When does a real estate deal get wacky?" asks KABC in Los Angeles, then answers: "When the property is an aging convent with panoramic views in Los Feliz and the surviving nuns say they don't want to sell it to pop diva Katy Perry."

* "Perry Como, yes; Katy Perry, no," Steve Lopez snickers in his otherwise well-researched, much-cited column in the Los Angeles Times. "Say a prayer that Hollister and Perry don't end up wrestling on the steps of the convent."

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Religious freedom: Charlotte Observer actually asks the religious some important questions

Religious freedom: Charlotte Observer actually asks the religious some important questions

What?? A daily newspaper quoting ministers on a state religious freedom bill? Cue Tchaikovsky!

No, wait. The Charlotte Observer does quote two pastors about North Carolina's proposed law, a state version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But one is on their radar because he ran for the Senate last year. And the other is apparently the loyal opposition.

The fast-moving bill is similar to those that have drawn fire in Arizona, Indiana and elsewhere. Supporters say they are attempts to shield religious people from unwarranted government coercion. Opponents say they're ruses to legalize discrimination against gays.

It's a clear religious and moral issue. Unfortunately, most of the Charlotte Observer article quotes business, government, political and even sports groups like the NCAA -- a stable familiar to anyone who has followed the ongoing battle over Indiana's version of RFRA. The effect is largely like hearing people talk about you while you're standing right there.

Roughly a fifth of the 1,100-word Observer article chronicles economic jitters, based on blowback from businesses after Indiana passed its RFRA. The story grants two paragraphs to American Airlines, which hints that it will use its influence against the North Carolina bill, as it did against a similar bill in Arizona.

The Observer article does some things going for it. For one, it shuns the "scare" or "sarcasm" quotes around "religious freedom," as we've seen in many media -- even the otherwise classy NPR -- in covering the new law in Indiana.

The newspaper also balances its quoted sources. It cites Gov. Pat McCrory and a state senator against the bill, then two legislators who favor it. The Observer checks in with the state's American Civil Liberties Union but also with an opponent, the North Carolina Values Coalition.

For the pro-RFRA pastor, the Observer allows two partial quotes:

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Church bombings in Pakistan: Mainstream media provide powerful coverage

Church bombings in Pakistan: Mainstream media provide powerful coverage

Mainstream media have often been accused of caring more about the persecution of other religions than Christianity. But with the horrendous suicide bombings of two churches in Pakistan yesterday, they focused a welcome spotlight.

One of the punchiest ledes is in one of the earlier reports -- by the Wall Street Journal, filing just before 6 a.m. eastern time yesterday:

ISLAMABAD—Twin suicide bombings at two churches in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore killed at least 13 people, including two policemen, and wounded more than 65 people on Sunday, police officials said.  
The back-to-back blasts shook the majority Christian neighborhood of Youhanabad as churches in the area held prayer services, police officials said. Emergency-services officials said several of the wounded are in critical condition and the death toll is expected to rise.

The Journal, unfortunately, was right: Most reports through the day placed the deaths at 14, with 70-80 injured.

Special kudos go to the Times of India for its detail-rich coverage. The newspaper did such street-level reporting as:

The first suicide bomber detonated his strapped-explosives outside the main gate of St John's Catholic Church after the security guard prevented him from entering the church where Christian families had gathered for Sunday service, a senior police officer. The second blast occurred minutes later in the compound of Christ Church.

The article then tells of the Christian protests who turned violent, including the attacks on two men suspected of taking part in the church attacks:

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Washington Post runs Spock-tacular story on Leonard Nimoy

Washington Post runs Spock-tacular story on Leonard Nimoy

Whenever Trekkies flash Spock's Vulcan "Live Long and Prosper" sign, they're actually borrowing from Judaism, Leonard Nimoy often said. That fact came to the fore in numerous retrospects after Nimoy's death Feb. 27.

"People don’t realize they're blessing each other with this!" he says in one of the better stories, based on a recorded interview reported by the Post.

Nimoy became a photographer, a director, a narrator, even a singer over his career. But his best-known role was, of course, Spock, the logic-minded alien in three TV seasons and eight films based on the original Star Trek. The religious/spiritual gesture? Abby Ohlheiser of the Washington Post nails it in the first two paragraphs:

Leonard Nimoy first saw what became the famous Vulcan salute, “live long and prosper,” as a child, long before “Star Trek” even existed. The placement of the hands comes from a childhood memory, of an Orthodox Jewish synagogue service in Boston.
The man who would play Spock saw the gesture as part of a blessing, and it never left him. “Something really got hold of me,” Nimoy said in a 2013 interview with the National Yiddish Book Center.

The story is absorbing both on a personal and religious level. Ohlheiser, with contributions by ace religion writer Michelle Boorstein, fills in Nimoy's Ukrainian background and upbringing in Boston. His acquaintance with Yiddish led him to helping support the book center.

In a little disclosure, Ohlheiser says she worked at the book center as a college student. Her experience led her to ask about anything that Nimoy had done there, leading to the gold mine of the recorded interview.

Religiously, the story is, as Spock might say, fascinating:

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Washington Post recognizes pro-life pope, but not pro-life bishops

Washington Post recognizes pro-life pope, but not pro-life bishops

Seems like everyone is into mergers; why not Catholics? A new Washington Post story surveys the Catholic pro-life movement and concludes that it's merging with other social movements, like homelessness and immigration reform.

The story says the merging is a response to Pope Francis' admonition to stop "obsessing" about abortion. Whether that's true, though, is questionable. More on that later.

For now, some of the good stuff. The article catalogs a buoyant mood among Catholic pro-lifers during the recent March for Life: cataloguing a "belief that U.S. culture is turning in their favor."

Among the perceptive facets are an observation that "the March for Life participants were overwhelmingly young and religious." The article also reports on a separate pro-life march in Southern California, "highlighting not only abortion but also homelessness, foster care and elderly rights."

And here are a nice two "nut" paragraphs:

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